Comparing the best current player on every NBA team to a basketball legend is certainly opening a can of worms.
No comparison is perfect because there are no carbon-copy duplicates of NBA players and there will never be another Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson.
Additionally, many NBA teams are not led by a future Hall of Famer, so comparing them to NBA legends is simply a comparison, not a claim that they will eventually morph into one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived.
So, with that said, let’s compare the best player on every NBA roster to an NBA legend.
The Comparison: Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway
It could be argued that Josh Smith is the best player on the Atlanta Hawks right now, but since Joe Johnson is getting paid more than $19.7 per year for the next four seasons, we can pretend for the sake of Hawks fans that he’s their best player (even though he frequently disappears in the playoffs).
Comparing Johnson to Penny Hardaway makes sense for a variety of reasons. Both are 6’7” shooting guards who could also play stints at point guard or small forward. Johnson admittedly has far more bulk than Hardaway did back in the day, considering JJ is 240 pounds, but they also have similarities with how they play the game.
Both are great shooters who averaged more than 20 points per game (although Johnson has more consistent shooting range).
Hardaway and Johnson can both score in a variety of ways. Hardaway utilized his post game more often than Johnson probably should, but there are a lot of similar attributes between the two.
In addition, both Hardaway and Johnson can distribute the basketball (although Hardaway was probably the better passer). Also, both players have similar rebounding numbers, which are above-average for guards.
While Johnson took a few years to get acclimated to the NBA before putting up gaudy numbers, Hardaway came into the league and was scoring right away. Unfortunately for Hardaway, his career was derailed by knee injuries and he was never able to put up his 20-point-per-game numbers after the two seasons early in his career when he did.
Johnson, on the other hand, has been extremely durable. The fewest games he’s played in a season was during the 2006-07 campaign, when he played 57 games.
Neither player gained a reputation as being a great defensive player (although Johnson probably takes defense more seriously than Hardaway ever did).
The Comparison: Isiah Thomas
Rajon Rondo certainly doesn’t have the same gaudy scoring numbers of Isiah Thomas, but the two do share a fair amount of similarities.
First of all, Rondo and Thomas are both defensive-minded point guards who make a living by picking the pockets of opposing players.
Obviously, as is the case with most great point guards, these two are both fantastic distributors who make the right pass when it counts.
Rondo has proven to be the superior rebounder between the two, but Thomas averaged four or more rebounds per game in three separate seasons, so he wasn't non-existent in that regard.
One of the goofiest comparisons between these two, is their lackluster outside shooting.
Thomas shot just 29 percent from beyond the arc during his illustrious career. After six seasons so far, Rondo sits at just 24.1 percent from the three-point line.
Also, Thomas was never a tremendous free throw shooter (75.9 percent for his career, not good for a point guard). Rondo has struggled even more from the charity stripe to this point in his career, shooting a paltry 61.9 percent.
Rondo takes better care of the ball when compared with Thomas (2.7 turnovers per game versus 3.8 turnovers per game), but overall both players are very similar.
The Comparison: Kevin Johnson
Kevin Johnson is one of the most underrated NBA point guards of all-time. Even though he’s best remembered for this dunk posterizing Hakeem Olajuwon, he was truly one of the NBA greats.
Johnson and Deron Williams are both efficient scorers. Johnson was a worse three-point shooter at 30.5 percent for his career, compared to 35.1 percent for Williams, but shooting threes was never a part of KJ’s game anyway.
Both are score-first point guards with a great ability to set up teammates to score points of their own.
Despite his smaller stature, Johnson is probably the grittier, tougher defender when compared with D-Will.
Both players consistently put up more than 20 points, eight assists and three rebounds per game.
It could be argued that Williams has a more complete offensive repertoire considering he can shoot the three ball confidently, but KJ was an athletic freak of nature who could explode to the basket at will.
Both players are proven leaders who help their teams win games.
The Comparison: Dikembe Mutombo
Alright, so maybe Bismack Biyombo isn’t the best player on the Charlotte Bobcats at the moment, but selecting the “best player” from a team that won just seven games seems like an oxymoron to me anyway.
At just 19-years-old, Biyombo probably has the most potential and room to grow out of everyone on the Bobcats roster, so he gets the nod here.
Comparing Rajon Rondo to Isiah Thomas or Deron Williams to Kevin Johnson seem like fair evaluations when compared with Biyombo and Mount Mutombo.
Unlike Biyombo, Mutombo made a gigantic instant-impact when he entered the NBA in 1991, averaging 16.6 points, 12.3 rebounds and three blocks per game. He’s one of the greatest defensive big men ever and it could be a long time before we see an NBA player worthy of a comparison to Mutombo.
Biyombo, at 6’9”, simply doesn’t measure up with the sheer mountainous height of Mutombo, who stood at 7’2”. Nevertheless, Biyombo has had bright moments on the defensive end of the floor.
He recorded five or more blocked shots on five separate occasions this past season, but his biggest accomplishment was locking down the best center in the NBA, Dwight Howard.
In an upset win over the Orlando Magic earlier this year, Biyombo recorded 10 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocked shots, while holding Howard to 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.
Biyombo had an up-and-down year statistically, but he showed up to play against the best in the business, which earns him props.
Biyombo has a long way to go to be as good as Mutombo, but he’s shown flashes of defensive brilliance.
If nothing else, at least their last names sound similar.
The Comparison: Kevin Johnson
Alright, so we already compared another elite NBA point guard to Kevin Johnson, but while Deron Williams and KJ have certain similarities, those similarities are magnified between the current Mayor of Sacramento and Derrick Rose.
Both are hyper-athletic, score-first point guards who can also distribute the ball when the play calls for it.
KJ is clearly the better distributor out of the point guard spot (his best assist total for a season was 12.2 compared to Rose’s 7.9), but both are extremely similar players.
The similarities even trickle down to each player’s lackluster three-point shooting. Both hover around 30 percent from behind the arc for their careers.
Additionally, Johnson struggled with injuries throughout his career and missed chunks of seasons due to that (much like Rose this past season).
Overall the Johnson-Rose comparison is more accurate than a Johnson-Williams comparison, but neither are too far-fetched.
The Comparison: Tim Hardaway
Although Kyrie Irving isn’t quite the distributor that Tim Hardaway was (partly due to Irving’s poor supporting cast), these two compare favorably to one another.
Both Irving and Hardaway have proven to be efficient shooters in the NBA. Although we only have Irving’s rookie season as a sample size, it’s hard to imagine him declining after winning this year’s Rookie of the Year award without much competition.
Irving shot 46.9 percent from the field, 39.9 percent from three-point range and 87.2 percent from the free throw line.
For his career, Hardaway shot 43.1 percent from the field, 35.5 percent from three-point range and 78.2 percent from the free throw line (his stats from earlier in his career, before injuries, compare more favorably to Irving).
Hardaway was truly one of the NBA’s best talents, but as with Penny Hardaway, injuries derailed what was a promising career.
Irving still has a long career ahead of him, but if he’s able to avoid injuries (I’m knocking on wood for all the Cavs fans), he could turn out to be one of the top point guards ever.
The Comparison: Larry Bird
Honestly speaking, comparing Dirk Nowitzki to prior NBA greats just isn’t all that feasible.
We’ve never seen a seven-foot power forward who can shoot the ball quite like Nowitzki can. He’s truly a prototype, one-of-a-kind athlete that comes around once in a generation.
With that said, comparing Nowitzki as a poor man’s Larry Bird is about as accurate a comparison as you can muster for a guy like Dirk.
Bird was without question a better rebounder (even though he was shorter and played on the perimeter more), as well as a better defensive player and distributor.
However, this comparison has been made before.
In this piece by ESPN’s Marc Stein, Bird said he was honored to be compared to Nowitzki.
Bird is one of the more modest athletes ever, so while I’m sure he’s being 100 percent genuine when he says that, it’s Nowitzki who should be honored to be compared to Bird.
Nowitzki and Bird are two of the most efficient scorers the NBA has ever seen. Although Nowitzki disappointed a wide variety of fans by coming back to the game this year out of shape and with a lack of motivation after winning his first championship the season before, he’s still one of the greatest power forwards ever.
The Comparison: Muggsy Bogues
The fact that Muggsy Bogues was able to play in the NBA for 14 years despite standing at just 5’3” is nothing short of amazing. Bogues not only played, he also put up efficient numbers.
While Ty Lawson is clearly a much better player than Bogues was even in his prime, the comparison is there because they are both undersized, stocky point guards with the ability to score efficiently.
One major difference between the two players is that Lawson can shoot the three-ball. Bogues rarely, and I do mean rarely, attempted shots from behind the arc, which shows off his basketball IQ because he was a career 27.8 percent shooter from down town.
Both players can be given the “pest” label on both ends of the court. The only area where Bogues overshadows Lawson is with his ability to distribute the ball.
Even during mediocre seasons, Bogues recorded more assists per game than Lawson’s best total of 6.6 assists per contest.
The Comparison: Bob Lanier
If you compare Greg Monroe’s current stats of 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game to Bob Lanier’s first NBA season where he recorded 15.6 points and 8.1 rebounds, it looks like a perfect comparison.
However, for the next seven seasons afterward, Lanier posted well over 20 points and 11 rebounds per game.
Can Monroe improve that drastically after a steady rookie and an even better sophomore year? Well, probably not to that massive extent, but he should get better.
Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Greg Eno wrote a fantastic article comparing Monroe to a modern day Bob Lanier or Willis Reed through the eyes of Ray Scott (who was no slouch out on the court either).
The article is a must read for Pistons fans, but I think it does a great job articulating the comparison of Monroe to both NBA legends.
The Comparison: Reggie Miller
Reggie Miller was one of the purest jump shooters the NBA has ever seen.
Although the sample size at this point isn’t large enough, a case can be made to put Stephen Curry in the conversation regardless.
After three NBA seasons, Curry has shot 47.3 percent from the field, 44.1 percent from the three-point line and 90.1 percent from the free throw line.
Compare those to Miller’s career numbers of 47.1 percent from the free throw line, 39.5 percent from the three-point line and 88.8 percent from the free throw line and we have an interesting comparison.
The shooting numbers for Curry have been extremely impressive thus far, but if he can’t stay healthy enough to remain on the court, that becomes a moot point.
He doesn’t have the size or the killer instinct that Miller had throughout his career, but I think that Curry can eventually get to the same elite level we saw Miller play at for all those years.
The Comparison: Kevin McHale
You could make a case for putting the Rockets' disgruntled point guard Kyle Lowry in this spot, or even sharpshooting guard Kevin Martin. However, neither of those two players even appear as if they want to play in Houston next year, so we give this spot to the reliable and durable Luis Scola.
Comparing Scola to his current coach, Kevin McHale, is like comparing a hobo to Donald Trump, but there aren’t many similar comparisons to the Argentinean forward.
If you compare McHale’s first four seasons in the NBA to the career of Scola, the comparison seems fair. If you add in McHale’s career, his numbers absolutely demolish Scola’s so it depends how you choose to look at things.
Scola is absolutely pathetic defensively when compared with McHale (who was one of the best defensive forwards ever). Scola’s career high blocks per game numbers came last season, when he recorded a whopping 0.6 per game.
Although the defensive comparison is all but non-existent, Scola’s diverse array of offensive post moves compare with McHale’s at least to a small degree.
Again, it's difficult to compare a capable NBA starter to an NBA legend.
The Comparison: Rik Smits
Why not compare the current Indiana Pacer with a former Pacer who spent his entire career in Indiana, Rik Smits.
Smits (7’4”, 250 pounds) and Hibbert (7’2”, 260 pounds) have similar frames, although Hibbert is clearly stockier than Smits ever was.
Smits’ career averages of 14.8 points per game, 6.1 rebounds per game and 1.3 blocks per game are nearly identical to Hibbert’s career numbers of 11.1 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game.
Both are underwhelming rebounders given their massive heights, but they still manage to put up respectable numbers.
Hibbert seems well on his way to becoming a better player than Smits, but he’s been slow to develop considering he’s already been in the league for four years.
The Comparison: Isiah Thomas
Chris Paul has been drawing comparisons to Isiah Thomas for a long time, so it’s no shock that he gets that comparison here.
Both are pesky defenders who are always among the league-leaders in steals per game.
CP3 and Thomas both have similar short, stocky builds and know how to penetrate to the basket and create for teammates.
Paul is a better outside shooter, but I think Thomas trumps Paul otherwise.
Their stats are extremely similar, but I think Thomas had a better peak than Paul. Also, Thomas has a championship ring to his credit, and Paul has yet to acquire the hardware.
The fact that CP3 single-handedly turned the Los Angeles Clippers franchise around from laughingstock to contender speaks for itself, though.
The Comparison: Michael Jordan
Let me preface this by saying that I absolutely hate this comparison. The fact that some people can actually think that Kobe Bryant is as good as Michael Jordan is just flat out absurd in my opinion. However, they’re both shooting guards with similar jewelry so I’ll break this down as best as I can.
The scoring numbers, although similar, clearly indicate that MJ is the better between the two. Jordan averaged 28.2 points per game as a rookie. Bryant averaged 7.6 points per game as a rookie.
Additionally, Jordan was a better defender, rebounder and distributor of the basketball when compared with Bryant.
Jordan has six NBA championships to his name compared to Bryant’s five, but something about those figures can’t be overstated. Jordan was the alpha dog and best player on all six of his championship teams. Of the five championships Bryant has won, he was only the alpha dog and best player for two of those five (Shaquille O’Neal being the best player on three of them).
While comparing Jordan and Bryant can make for a good conversation, in my opinion the argument is already over. Jordan was, and probably forever will be, the greatest basketball player ever. There’s nobody close to him at this moment, not even Bryant, even if he somehow stumbles across a sixth ring.
The Comparison: Vlade Divac
Vlade Divac’s career stats: 11.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.4 blocks per game.
Marc Gasol’s career stats: 13.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.5 blocks per game.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that those career numbers for each player are nearly identical.
Divac, one of the best passing big men of all time, compares very nicely with Gasol, who is one of the best passing big men in the game today (if not the best).
The Comparison: Earvin “Magic” Johnson
Magic Johnson’s career stats: 19.5 points, 11.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game.
LeBron James’ career stats: 27.6 points, 6.9 assists and 7.9 rebounds per game.
What’s crazy about this comparison is that the only true difference between the two players was their set position.
Johnson, a pure point guard, racked up more assist totals because he was looking to distribute and set up teammates.
James, a small forward, averages just over eight points per game more than Johnson because he’s constantly on the attack looking to score the basketball.
Johnson’s ball-handling ability and his ability to throw flashy passes differentiate him from James, but I think that if LeBron wanted to, he could easily play point guard.
James will likely never be quite the distributor that Johnson was, but Johnson wasn’t the pure scorer that James is, so I think those two categories even out.
Overall this is an intriguing comparison because both players come from the same prototype, but play different positions.
The Comparison: Allen Iverson
Both Allen Iverson and Monta Ellis are scoring guards who love to attack the basket and rack up points.
Ellis is arguably the better outside shooter, but Iverson is hands down a better scorer who could take over a game at any moment. Don't expect Ellis to single-handedly lead the Bucks to an NBA Finals appearance any time soon (or win an MVP).
In addition to the similar scoring outputs, Iverson and Ellis have similar assist and rebound totals for their careers.
The Comparison: Charles Barkley
Comparing Kevin Love to anyone past or present is a difficult task. I mean, how often can we say that an NBA player who finished in the top two in the league in rebounding also won the Three-Point Shootout in the same season?
While Charles Barkley was never a prolific outside shooter, he’s tenacious rebounding and ability to score over 20 points per game consistently make for a nice comparison.
Love doesn’t have quite the mean streak when compared with Barkley (as Love’s name would suggest), but nevertheless he’s one of the best rebounders in the NBA and probably the best power forward in the league (taking the title from Tim Duncan).
Charles Barkley’s career stats: 22.1 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game.
Kevin Love’s career stats: 17.3 points, 12 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game.
The Comparison: Kevin Garnett
Okay, so Eric Gordon is a restricted free agent and will more than likely return to New Orleans next season. However, Anthony Davis will be the newest first overall pick on Thursday, so in the spirit of the NBA draft, we’ll make a comparison for the future of the Hornets’ franchise.
Comparing a future NBA player to a current NBA player is almost the same as comparing a current NBA player to a basketball legend. When you add in the fact that the current NBA player up for comparison is future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett, we can already stamp his “legend” status.
As a lanky, defensive-minded big man, the Davis comparisons to KG have already run rampant across the Internet.
While I think that Davis can eventually become as good a player as KG is, I don’t think that he’ll ever be as dominant offensively as KG was early on.
Davis needs to bulk up in order to be able to hold his ground against bigger, stronger NBA talents. However, his shot-blocking and rebounding ability will allow him to make an instant impact.
The Comparison: Rick Barry
Comparing Carmelo Anthony to Rick Barry makes sense for a variety of reasons.
First, Barry was the only basketball player ever to lead the NCAA, ABA and NBA in scoring. His ability to score early and often in his career makes for an easy comparison to Anthony, who averaged 22.2 points per game as a freshman at Syracuse and 21 points per game as a rookie with the Denver Nuggets.
Barry was a far better rebounder and distributor, as well as a better free throw shooter when compared with Anthony (he was one of the best free throw shooters of all time, and if you don’t know already, he shot them granny style).
By contrast, Anthony has better range and is a more efficient three-point shooter.
Barry’s reputation to put personal success ahead of a team concept unfortunately makes for another intriguing comparison with Anthony.
The Comparison: Larry Bird
Kevin Durant earns a comparison to Larry Legend on the basis that he can flat out shoot the basketball.
When you watch highlights of Bird, it's as if the guy simply couldn't miss a shot. When you watch Durant now, sometimes you get that same vibe.
When Durant has it going, he can score from virtually anywhere.
The Durantula is also a great rebounder for a small forward (he led all NBA small forwards in rebounding this past season, even over LeBron James).
Durant also earns the comparison because he's a proven winner. He led his squad to an NBA Finals appearance at just 23 years old and should be able to do so for many years to come.
The Comparison: Shaquille O'Neal
Okay Dwight, if you want to be called Superman, we may as well compare you to the original, Shaquille O'Neal.
Howard earns the comparison to O'Neal simply based on the physical dominance each have displayed from a young age.
Howard may be seen as a better rebounder and defensive player, but his offense is still not even close to what Shaq could do in his prime.
There's also the fact that both centers started their career in Orlando.
The Comparison: Scottie Pippen
Andre Iguodala and Scottie Pippen both do all of the little things it takes to win games. Both play tenacious defense, give their all on both ends of the court, score, rebound and make their teammates better.
Pippen was clearly the better player in just about every respect (although Iggy make take the dunking crown between the two), but the comparison is there.
Unfortunately for Iguodala, he didn't have the luxury of playing alongside Michael Jordan.
The Comparison: John Stockton
Both John Stockton and Steve Nash run the pick-and-roll game to perfection. Also, both are unselfish, team-first players who could pour in the points when called upon.
Stockton and Nash were both late-bloomers (although Nash peaked later than Stockton). Nash is a better three-point shooter and free throw shooter, but one big factor stands out about Stockton: durability.
Stockton played in all 82 regular season games during 16 seasons. It's as if the guy was replaced by robot parts before his playing career.
Nash hasn't had a ton of injury problems, but a nagging back has plagued him for years, requiring him to rest more often later in his career.
The Comparison: Karl Malone
Obviously, LaMarcus Aldridge is no where near as good of a player as Karl Malone, but he also didn't benefit from playing alongside a great floor general like John Stockton.
Considering that the majority of Aldridge's points have to be earned through one-on-one post ups and mid-range jumpers, he does a great job at putting the ball in the bucket.
Malone had a lot of the same skills, but was just better all around.
The Comparison: Shaquille O'Neal
Much like Shaq, DeMarcus Cousins has the physical tools to be a dominant NBA talent.
However, because Cousins is immature and would rather start feuds with his coaches instead of channeling his anger into great play, he hasn't quite peaked as an athlete yet.
If he puts his mind to it, I think he could be as good statistically as O'Neal was.
Does he have the ability to help lead his teams to NBA championships? That remains to be seen.
The Comparison: Tim Duncan
Alright, so this is definitely a cop out on my part, but Tim Duncan is the best power forward to ever play the game in my opinion, so comparing him to anyone else would just be foolish.
Duncan is a living legend, a proven winner, a genius of the fundamentals and one of the most humble athletes you'll ever come across.
He's been the alpha dog on four championship teams for a reason.
The Comparison: Dirk Nowitzki
I refuse to compare Andrea Bargnani to Larry Bird, so I'll compare him to someone I compared to Larry Bird, in Dirk Nowitzki.
Both Nowitzki and Bargnani are seven-footers who can shoot the ball better than most guards. Bargnani's outside shooting is stellar, but like Nowitzki, he doesn't play great defense.
Not only does Bargnani not play great defense, but he doesn't even have the toughness we see from Dirk from time to time.
It will be interesting to see if Toronto can surround him with enough talent to make this team a contender, because I'd like to see how Bargnani performs under playoff pressure.
The Comparison: Moses Malone
Moses Malone is not only one of the best rebounders the NBA has ever seen, but he's also one of the best pure basketball players.
Al Jefferson, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated players in the NBA today. Because he's played on so many bad teams and suffered untimely injuries, fans fail to appreciate just how great Big Al is.
Check out his streak of games during the 2008-09 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves before he went down due to injury.
The guy had a 36-point, 22-rebound game (with four steals and two blocks for good measure). Now those are some Moses-type numbers.
The Comparison: Nick Van Exel
When you compare Nick Van Exel's career statistics of 14.4 points, 6.6 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game to John Wall's career statistics of 16.3 points, 8.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds, it's pretty clear that Wall is the better overall player.
However, there's one key difference between the two players that should be noted. Wall was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. Van Exel, on the other hand, wasn't drafted until the 10th overall pick in the second round of the 1993 NBA draft.
Van Exel is putting up numbers pretty similar to Wall, and his best statistical year of 21.4 points, 8.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game, trumps Wall's best year by a long shot.
Bottom line, you expect more from someone who was drafted first overall.